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Handle deepwater fish with care this time of year

This is the time of year that walleyes, bass, and northern pike can be active in deep water. By deep, I am referring to 35 feet of water or deeper.

Fish caught out of deep water this time of year (before the fall "turnover" cycle) may have a difficult time surviving release. The reason they may struggle is due to air build up in their air bladder. Their air bladder acts like a ballast in a submarine, and can allow them to go to deep water and remain comfortable. If they come to the surface to quickly, they get a condition like the "bends," similar to a scuba diver coming to the surface too fast.

The DNR recommends playing fish quickly to improve release survival rates. This is one time of year, and catching them out of deep water, that playing the fish slowly will improve release survival rates. Bring them up slowly and pause a couple of times on the way up. Keep some of the fish that come out of the deep-water bite for a meal if desired. Be selective in your harvest. Playing them slowly will allow you to release the fish that are too small or too big.

Walleye tournament anglers have long known about "fizzing" walleyes out of deep water to help them adjust so that they can remain in a livewell and be successfully released after they have been weighed in at the end of the day. This survival technique was taught to the early PWT (Professional Walleye Trail) anglers many years ago by the Michigan DNR for the tournaments held on the Great Lakes. The research on the success of this practice is well documented with walleyes. I am not aware of any other fish species other than walleyes that "fizzing" been practiced or researched.

Clipping weights on the bottom fins and letting them sit on the bottom of a well-aerated livewell is another successful technique that helps fish recover to be releasable.

You will not need to know how to "fizz" your fish. If released right away, they will swim back to the bottom and be fine. If you do bring them up too fast and they have their air bladder in their throat, you will need to keep that fish as it will not survive release.

At this time of year, even fish caught in shallow water may struggle many times for release. They may have come up from deep water to feed shallow and return quickly, but their plan was interrupted by grabbing your bait!

If the fish swallowed your hook or jig, cut the line if you plan to release the fish. If you dig that hook out of the throat, you will injure the fish and reduce the chance of survival success. If the fish has been thrown out of the net onto the floor of the boat, or if the fish has been dropped several times, you will be better off keeping that fish for a meal as the likelihood of survival has been diminished significantly.

Even veteran anglers that have handled many fish, are cautious and conscientious, will sometimes lose one that they would have preferred to release. Fishing is about learning, improving, doing the best we can, and having respect for the fish and our fisheries.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)